Studying abroad and coming back
The choice to study abroad is continually praised. USD endlessly promotes it, constantly citing the fact that we are ranked number one in the nation. Students tend to gush about their experiences, noting how much it changed their lives.
But what happens after returning from this magical and life altering experience? To put it bluntly: nothing.
Before leaving London this past semester, the study abroad students were emailed a “Returnee Handbook” about readjusting to life in America. The handbook reads, “…feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and expected as a natural result of study abroad.”
There were many warnings, explanations and nuggets of advice about returning to America, but nothing can quite prepare you for the real deal.
The truth is that returning can feel like a slap across the face, and above all, overwhelmingly sad. The adventure of a lifetime just came to an end. What comes next? Your life changed, you changed, but you are now expected to resume the old life you left behind.
Sometimes the changes are funny, even comical. Senior Luke Stager who returned from studying abroad in London last spring tells the story of meeting his father at the airport upon return. Luke’s hands were filled with luggage when he arrived at the car with his father.
“Would you mind opening the boot for me?” Luke said. “My dad’s face said, ‘A boot? What on Earth did you just say?!’ He did not know the London vernacular for trunk is boot.
Everyone returning from studying abroad has experienced similar moments. Whether they are funny, embarrassing or sad, they’re an integral part of readjusting to American culture.
There is no easy way to readjust to being back home. It can seem impossible to reconcile the inner changes that occurred abroad while also juggling school, jobs, internships and the demands of daily life.
Perhaps the first step is simply admitting that it’s hard, and after all, there is no shame in sadness. In the era of excessively happy Facebook statuses and boastful Instagram photos, it can be hard to remember that it’s okay to feel sad, confused or in transition.
In a Psychology Today article about sadness, psychologist Dr. Seltzer explains the ironic nature of society’s expectations of our actions.
“Perhaps the final irony in all this is that, culturally, it’s considered stoical to hold in our…emotions,” Seltzer writes. “Not to show vulnerability is typically viewed as a strength, a ‘demonstration’ of character. But in reality the major motives in hiding our emotions are fear-based.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about the sadness of being back, the confusion due to so many changes and the inevitable uncertainty about the future. Chances are that even the person tweeting about their “best day ever” can relate.